Its been over 2,500 years since the Greek Pantheon and their many myths were worshipped, and yet their stories are still some of the most iconic and widely known legends out there. They are a key part of modern culture even now, how many times have you seen a Greek god or goddess being used as a brand name or as inspiration for a modern retelling? What makes their stories remain so universally appealing? What is it about Greek mythology that still connects to us thousands of years later?
1. They make mistakes.
Though they may be divine, one of the most notable characteristics of Greek Gods and Goddesses that set them apart from other religions is their fallibility. So many of their myths are based around their mistakes and impulses that almost always have follow on consequences. These deities set themselves apart from many other religions where the gods and goddesses are infallible beings, the Greek Pantheon on the other hand is almost an exemplar of all the best and worst qualities of humanity.
2. They are eventful to say the least
Part of what makes Greek myths so appealing to us is that there is never any shortage of drama. So many of the myths are filled with extreme highs and extreme lows, it is almost like the ancient equivalent of a reality show or TV drama, trying to work out who is related to who or what that person did to make the other angry, who hates who.
3. There are a lot of them
There is a surplus of Greek myths out there, some are retellings or different interpretations of the same myth but you are not likely to run out of material even though they’re not being written anymore. But even still people are constantly reinterpreting Greek myths for modern audiences and settings finding new ways for the Ancient heroes’ stories to happen in a modern world.
“Echo and Narcissus” by John William Waterhouse, 1908. Capturing a moment in the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus as Echo longingly watches after Narcissus as he admires his own reflection in the pool. Photo via liverpoolmuseums.org
4. Characters tend to get what’s coming to them.
There is nothing more satisfying than watching an arrogant person get taken down a peg, well that is exactly the story of Narcissus and Echo but not before a healthy amount of drama and tragedy ensues.
The tragic character of Echo made herself the subject of Hera’s wrath one day after assisting Zeus in his infidelity by distracting Hera a few too many times. As punishment, Hera cursed Echo to only be able to repeat what she has just heard for the rest of her days (hence why an echo is called “Echo”).
One day in a forest Echo spied the famously beautiful and arrogant Narcissus and fell in love with him and his beauty. She then tried to strike up a conversation with him in an effort to confess her love, however, because of her curse she must wait for him to say the right words she can use to make this confession. Unfortunately, Narcissus is not impressed and not willing to share his beauty with anyone other than someone either as attractive or more so than he. He promptly turns down Echo and unsubtly hints she should go and put herself out of her misery. In her despair and heartbreak, Echo withers away and eventually dies, all that is left of her is her voice that will forever repeat whatever was just said.
This is not the end of the story for Narcissus though, for after having seen Narcissus treat several potential lovers so abhorrently, the goddess Nemesis decides to give Narcissus a taste of his own medicine by directing him to a reflective pool where he can admire himself. Narcissus became so enthralled by his own reflection and so distraught that he could never be with himself that he refused to leave the pool to eat or sleep and like all the others who fell in love with him, he himself eventually died by the pool staring at his own reflection.
5. They are relatable
Greek mythology deals in many of the most relatable and primal emotions that drive us, everyone feels longs for something they cannot have like Echo, everyone has been driven by anger and impulse like Hera and Aphrodite. Read more about the story of Aphrodite and her Roman counterpart Venus.
In Western societies at least, the legends of the Ancient Greek Gods and Heros are woven into the very fabric of the culture, we see signs symbols of the ancient myths everywhere from brand names such as Nike to how world maps are referred to as an Atlas the Titan that was believed to hold up the cosmos. Read more about the god with the world on his shoulders.
Lladró’s Atlas Sculpture with Lladró’s signature gold lustre.
6. They connect us to history
Some of the stories of Greek myth are so ingrained into our culture and are the building blocks of whole cities and nations like Athens, their origins are shrouded in such mystery that we don’t know whether many of the figures and places were real historical figures or not. Even the myth of Icarus is an iconic part of culture and colloquial language, how many times have you heard someone being referred to as an “Icarus'“ or have you heard the phrases “flew too high” or “flew too close to the sun”. Read more about the tragic story of Icarus.
Ultimately, these stories are a staple of our culture and society, they are so ingrained in us and in how we live our lives and apply these stories to our lives that they are not likely to fade and every new interpretation of them like Lladró’s Icarus or Cupid Sculptures only strengthens that.